Thank You, Japan - By Ambassador John V. Roos

August 9, 2013

As my wife Susie and I prepare to depart Japan after four years of service in this beautiful country, I am both humbled and deeply grateful for all I have learned from the Japanese people and from my fellow Americans.

For me, 3/11 was a life altering event. Amidst tragedy and devastation, the sight of U.S. military servicemen and women, working hand-in-hand with the Japanese Self Defense Forces to save lives and bring help and hope to the people of Tohoku, was a tremendous source of inspiration. At the U.S. Embassy, we received a torrent of requests from Americans who wanted to fly to Japan and help. Back home, ordinary Americans gave donations large and small. Out of the unfathomable tragedy of 3/11, our two countries' bonds (kizuna) were strengthened.

In thinking about how to help Tohoku move forward, we asked the people of the region what they needed most. Inspired by Mayor Toba of Rikuzentakata, who asked us to help teach the children of his town English and global skills, we established the TOMODACHI Initiative. TOMODACHI is a public-private partnership that raises money from Japanese and U.S. companies and individuals in order to expand two-way youth exchanges between our two countries. These companies and individuals understand that only through exchanges such as these can we sustain and deepen the broad-ranging economic, political, and cultural partnership between our two nations.

Indeed, there is no bilateral relationship more important than the one between the United States and Japan. Working together, we bring hope to people in every corner of the world. We are the two largest contributors to the United Nations, where our efforts extend to areas as diverse as peacekeeping, anti-piracy and nuclear non-proliferation. Our joint undertakings around the world nurture sustainable growth in Afghanistan, better health outcomes in Africa, and enhanced nutrition for hungry people in the world's poorest countries. Underpinning all of this, our security alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability throughout Asia and beyond.

Several days ago, I was honored to meet Japanese firefighters who rushed to New York after the 9.11 terrorist attacks. Within hours of the attacks, they were preparing to travel to the site where the World Trade Center had stood the day before. They worked at Ground Zero, shoulder to shoulder with their American brothers and sisters, risking their lives.

Those firefighters are reminders that our friendship did not begin with 3.11, and the TOMODACHI Initiative is a reminder that our relationship continues to be renewed and strengthened every day. People-to-people "kizuna," in good times and bad, makes our partnership strong, broad, and profoundly powerful.

Over the past four years, as Susie and I visited all 47 prefectures (todofuken), we marveled at the richness of Japan's culture, the hospitality of the Japanese people, and the strength of the Japanese character. We leave Japan with heavy hearts, but want to say that we will remain closely associated with Japan in the years to come.

Susie and I will always be, in every sense of the word, Japan's tomodachi. Sayonara.